Winter Line

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German-prepared defensive lines south of Rome.

The Winter Line was a series of German military fortifications in Italy, constructed during World War II by Organisation Todt. The primary Gustav Line ran across Italy from just north of where the Garigliano River flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west, through the Apennine Mountains to the mouth of the Sangro River on the Adriatic coast in the east. The centre of the line, where it crossed the main route north to Rome (Highway 6) which followed the Liri Valley, was anchored around the mountains behind the town of Cassino including Monte Cassino, on which was situated an old abbey that dominated the entrance to the Liri Valley (a main route to Rome), and Monte Cairo which gave the defenders clear observation of potential attackers advancing towards the mouth of the Liri valley.

On the western side of the Apennines there were two subsidiary lines: the Bernhardt Line in front of the main Gustav positions and the Hitler Line some 5 miles to the rear. The Winter Line was fortified with gun pits, concrete bunkers, turreted machine-gun emplacements, barbed-wire and minefields. It was the strongest of the German defensive lines south of Rome. About 15 German divisions were employed in the defence. It took the Allies from mid-November 1943 to late May 1944 to fight through all the various elements of the Winter Line, including the well-known battles at Monte Cassino and Anzio.

Some authorities define the Bernhardt Line as crossing Italy from coast to coast following not just the western defensive positions described above but incorporating also the eastern defences of the Gustav Line. Other authorities use the Winter Line name interchangeably with the Gustav Line as defined above.

Bibliography[edit]

Moro River Canadian Cemetery near Ortona.

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Multimedia[edit]

  • CBC Archives CBC Radio reports from the Winter Line on May 14, 1944.